Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources

Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources is a 1983 biography of the Islamic prophet Muhammad by Martin Lings.

Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources
Martin Lings - Muhammad.jpg
The cover of the 1991 edition
AuthorMartin Lings
CountryUnited Kingdom
Series1st Edition (1983)
2nd Edition (1991)
PublisherIslamic Texts Society (1991), Inner Traditions (2006)
Publication date
1 January 1983 (1983-01-01)
Media typePrint


The book provides a new account of the sira or the life of Muhammad, with details that had not been elaborated in other accounts. It is based primarily on old Arab sources that go back to the 9th century, of which some passages are translated for the first time. It is not contradictory to other accounts but rather offers new insights and new details. The book also includes excerpts from original English translations of speeches by men and women who lived close to Muhammad, heard him speak, witnessed his actions, witnessed the way he interacted with situations and witnessed events he encountered throughout various stages of his life.[1]

References used are Ibn Ishaq (references here are to Ferdinand Wüstenfeld's edition of Sirat Rasul Allah, a life of the Prophet by Muhammad ibn Ishaq in the annotated recension of Ibn Hisham). Also Ibn Sa’ad (the references are to John Leyden's edition of Kitab al-Tabaqat al Kabir by Muhammad ibn Sa’d). Also there is Al-Waqidi (and the references are to Marsden Jones' edition of Kitab al Maghazi, A Chronicle of the Prophet's Campaigns, by Muhammad ibn Umar al- Waqidi).[2]

It is a narrative of the history of Arabia and the birth and the life of Muhammad. The biography consists of 85 short chapters, some as short as just two pages in length. Each chapter deals with an important event in the history of Islam and provides chronological context for the advent of the religion, as well as detailed information about Muhammad.[2][3]

The biography has gone through many reprints in English and it has been translated and published into many languages[4] including French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Dutch, Malay and Tamil.


A distinctive element of the biography is the vivid, approachable narrative style,[5] which is fast moving and flows fluently.[3] The book reads more like a novel[6] and was written in a style, which is easily readable,[2] comprehensible and it uses language, which reflects both simplicity and grandeur.[4]

Lings uses a more archaic style of English to depict conversations and translations of the Qur'an, which helps slows down the rapid flow of the narration. The focus in the book is less about the teachings of Islam and more about Muhammad.[3]

1991 editionEdit

In 1991, a second revised edition of the book with 22 additional pages was published, containing additional details pertaining to Muhammad's endeavours as well as accounts covering the spread of Islam into Syria and its neighbouring states surrounding the Arabian Peninsula.[4]

2006 editionEdit

Before Lings died in 2005, a newly revised edition of the book with 22 additional pages was published, which included final updates made on the text and incorporated into its contents, containing extra details pertaining to Muhammad's endeavors as well as accounts covering the spread of Islam into Syria and its neighboring states surrounding the Arabian Peninsula.[4][5]

Critical receptionEdit

Hamza Yusuf hails this work as "one of the great biographies of the English language", praising "the historical accuracy of the text and the providential care so evident in the author's choice of versions as well as the underlying structure of the story as he chose to tell it." He also reports from Lings how while writing this book, "he was overwhelmed with the presence of the Prophet during the entire time and felt a great blessing in having been able to complete it.".[7]

The Spectator described the book as "an enthralling story that combines impeccable scholarship with a rare sense of the sacred worthy of his subject." The Islamic Quarterly called the book "a true work of art, as enthralling as the best novels with the difference that this is not fiction but fact."[8]

The Times said "this work is widely recognized as the most readable account of the life of the Prophet to date."[4] Parabola stated that "for those interested in Islam in one way or another, it is mesmerizing."[9]

Upon its first edition, the book was subject to criticism by some Muslims who decried the "Perennialist poison" in the book. The author gave public answer in a Saudi newspaper to the objections.[10]


In 1983, the book was selected as the best biography of Muhammad in English at the National Seerat Conference in Islamabad. This book was also given an award by the government of Pakistan.[11]

In 1990, after the book had attracted the attention of Azhar University, Lings received a decoration from Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Review by Dr Asma Afsaruddin, Indiana University. Quoted by Reza Shah-Kazemi in "A Truly Holy Soul", Q-News no. 363, June 2005[permanent dead link].
  2. ^ a b c "Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources". Fons Vitae. Archived from the original on 1 July 2013. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Tausif, Gulrukh (11 October 2012). "Book reviews: Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, by Martin Lings". Helium. p. 1.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Muhammad : His Life Based on the Earliest Sources : Revised Edition : Martin Lings (Abu Bakr Siraj Ad-Din)". Islamic Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  5. ^ a b Youssuf, Maha (8 July 2011). "Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources". The Muslim Tribune. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  6. ^ Hernandez, Aaminah (14 July 2005). "Best Biographies of the Prophet Muhammad". OnIslam. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  7. ^ "A Spiritual Giant" (PDF) (363 ed.). Q News. June 2005. Retrieved 4 July 2013.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources". 1 January 1983. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  9. ^ "Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources". 6 October 2006. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  10. ^ Mustafaa al Kanadee, Aboo Bilaal. "Perinnialist Poison in Martin Lings' Biography of the Prophet: A Discussion with Martin Lings" (PDF). Fandango. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 May 2013. Retrieved 4 July 2013.
  11. ^ a b Book description at Islamic Texts Society.

Further readingEdit

  • Williams, Rebecca, Sira, Modern English, in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (2 vols.), Edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014, Vol. II, pp. 582–585. ISBN 1610691776

External linksEdit